I didn’t grow up feeling loved, or complete, or beautiful. Like many of us, I grew up questioning what love was, watching toxic versions of it playing in front of my eyes like a fucked-up movie. I was left with such a twisted version of love that it took me years to untangle that mess. As a result of that, I spent years questioning my own beauty and importance in this world. Years thinking I could only be validated by a man. That the approval I needed was in some guy, some bed, some poisonous relationship.

But there was no more toxic a relationship than the one I had with myself. Growing up, I went through the worst war, with the sneakiest and most devastating components. Two warriors, head to head, ready for hail and high water. The first one was me, the second was the reflection I saw in the mirror. What horrible things we would do to each other- as if we weren’t one. I did not know how to love parts of my body, how to not be ashamed of other parts. How to look in that mirror and not see shame and disgust look back at me. How to walk tall through criticism and unrealistic ideas. But mostly, how to not repeat those same harsh words I would hear all around.

I wanted love. I wanted love so bad I was willing to crawl on the floor and get on all fours for a single ounce of it. A shot glass worth that emptied as quick as it filled. I wanted it so damn bad I gave my whole to an unworthy man who did not want me in my entirety. I was trying to stop the emptiness by shoving a bunch of dirty rags in the void. What I didn’t know then was the love I was craving was never somebody else’s, it was mine. So, no matter how many times I went back to fill that shot glass, I never fully got it.

Have you ever found yourself in tears on the cold tiles of a man’s bathroom floor at 3 am? I have. It’s on that floor, with mascara running down my face that I could finally hear what that girl in the mirror had been trying to say all these years. And I’m not saying that the change happened that instant. Because I sadly went back a couple times to that man. But those following times it wasn’t me trying to get him to love me, it was me finally seeing he never would.

From that point on, realisation and all, I’ve been putting a lot of work in changing the self-image I have forged through the years. I started with self-care days, I started to bring little attentions to myself – like usually I would do to a man. I left notes in my notebooks, congratulating myself for my efforts and advancements. At first, it was weird. It was like building a relationship with myself. And I guess it is, in a way. It’s taking care of yourself. Small things, like not getting mad when you make mistakes. It’s understanding the triggers behind your actions, and how you can appease that trigger without being a detriment to your hard work. It’s holding space for yourself and your emotions. Listening to the roots of what you feel and why you feel it.

Implementing strong boundaries, especially for me with guys and what I am willing to accept and what I refuse from a partner. To stop doing things just because I feel bad or obligated. Now, “if it’s not a fuck yes it’s a no”. To not let my empathy turn into a weakness. Put myself first, as selfish as it sounds.

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I’m giving a lot of examples and homework there huh? That’s why I’m saying self-love is hard, it’s a journey that in my opinion is never ending. It’s constant work and elevation of yourself, putting you on the pedestal before any man. Furthermore, it’s letting go of old demons, no matter how hard they cling onto you, and smiling back at that girl in the mirror. It’s forgiving  yourself and, for me, it also meant forgiving my parents. And him. I feel wrong and not in my place to talk about such a thing as loving yourself because I am still working hard in my journey. I am still making mistakes and messing up. But I’m putting in the work, the very important work. And maybe, if I put enough words down on paper, I’ll be able to write myself a new story.

Maybe you can too.